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The party is over in Makawao town

Many hopeful new leaders will be able to keep event alive

Maui County Office of Economic Development Director Kay Fukumoto thanks longtime Makawao Third Friday organizers Giovanni Steven Cappelli and (to his right) wife, Panna, on Friday. They are stepping down as organizers of the event, which means Friday may have been the last Makawao Third Friday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

MAKAWAO — As night fell Friday over historic Makawao, vendors and community members said they hoped it wouldn’t be the final sunset for the 8-year-old town party.

Hundreds of people filled the streets for what promoters called the “grand finale” Makawao Third Friday Town Party, as entertainment, food, various activities and shopping spilled onto Baldwin Avenue. The county-sponsored event concluded Friday for the Upcountry town, a tight-knit community known for its paniolo history and rural lifestyle, because lead organizers ended their voluntary term.

“It was nice for the community,” said Lily Vega, owner and chef of Tacos Maui 8th Wonder, a vendor at the party since its inception. “Most of our customers are sad, and we are too. We are hoping someone will pick it up. Everyone’s hoping.”

Another vendor, Cady Cox of Big Wave Kombucha, said the event will be missed.

“It’s kind of a bummer,” she said. “Hopefully, they can continue it. Maybe there’s a way to collaborate among merchants.”

In a battle of Makawao residents in the middle of Baldwin Avenue, Bradley Gonzales prevails over Rose Mary Kanoho in a Family Feud parody hosted by Brenton Keith and Chelleigh Gambino of Gameshow Fanatics at Makawao Third Friday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Laurie Bell of Pukalani said she was sad the town party was celebrating its final event.

“This is my party night — my only night out,” she said. “I hope someone else can restart it.”

Longtime lead organizers Giovanni Steven Cappelli, owner of Casanova Italian Restaurant and Deli, and wife Panna, owner of Maui Hands Gallery, were honored Friday night by the County of Maui for their eight years of organizing the event. In a recent Maui News interview, Giovanni Steven Cappelli said merchant interest started off strong but started to wane over the years.

“We are so appreciative of Steven and Panna who have continued over the years taking care of the event,” said Office of Economic Development Director Kay Fukumoto.

Jacques Perreault, owner of Little Tibet, a shop near the corner of Makawao and Baldwin avenues, said the Friday party is good for community members but “not a moneymaker” for businesses because the rural area lacks busy crowds and an active nightlife.

Philadelphia resident Robert Carrasquillo tosses a cornhole bag at Makawao’s Third Friday celebration on Baldwin Avenue. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I’ve never seen anything that works well for Makawao at nighttime,” he said. “As soon as it’s 5:30 or 6, it’s lights out.”

Perreault said that a seasonal town party, or possibly one in Paia, may work better.

Earlier Friday, the county said it will continue to seek volunteers to take over the Makawao event before looking at other location options for the Friday parties.

“At this point, we want to work with Makawao first to see if the community wants to continue the event,” Fukumoto said. “Sometimes, it takes challenges like this to bring the community together.”

Makawao History Museum has been collecting information from potential volunteers who would continue the Makawao Third Friday Town Party, according to Fukumoto. Although there is no definitive organization or individual to lead at this point, she said, the Economic Development office will hold meetings next week with interested parties.

Fukumoto said a timeline for decision-making hasn’t been set, but she hopes that direction comes before Dec. 1, which is the deadline for a grant application period.

Makawao Town Party, held from 6 to 9 p.m. on the third Friday of each month, is one of five county bashes. Wailuku has “First Friday,” Lahaina, “Second Friday,” and Kihei, “Fourth Friday.” There is also a “Fifth Friday” party on Lanai.

Each party has district funding from the county’s Economic Development office, which receives grant applications specific to spurring economic activity in culture and arts. About $45,000 is in the budget for the Makawao event over the upcoming contract year, which will begin in September, according to Fukumoto. If the Makawao’s town party cannot be revived, the grant money allocated will stay in Makawao for the development of culture and arts as opposed to being used to support another town party, she said.

Other town parties are doing well, thanks to individuals and organizations volunteering to make it happen, Fukumoto said. She added that each event has its own identity based on the area.

“Each town’s party is so unique,” Fukumoto said. “It’s been wonderful to see the communities share different things in their respective events . . . We’re really focusing on allowing each community to create the events that represent their towns. They’re all pretty successful.”

Fukumoto said that the parties are a way for people to come together, and she encouraged visitors and residents to attend.

“Like anything, it is a commitment by the committee as well as volunteers to make it all happen,” she said. “Every community is very lucky to have a set of individuals and organizations willing to do this every month.”

If an organization or individual wants to help continue Makawao’s town party, contact Makawao History Museum by phone at 572-2482 or email at info@makawaomuseum.org.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.